by Frank Ruczynski
It feels great to be back in the swing of things! Getting off the couch and back out by the water's edge with a bent rod was exactly what I needed. Even though fishing action isn't quite in full swing yet, some impressive catches have been made over the last few days. Freshwater action is very good and the season's first striped bass have already hit the scales. We have a lot to look forward to, as fishing action should continue to improve with each passing day.
Let's start with striped bass – Tuesday, March 1 marked the beginning of a new fishing season for many of us as New Jersey's back bay and inlet waters opened to striped bass fishing. A few South Jersey tackle shops offer "bounties" for the first legal striped bass of the season. Captain Dave Showell, from Absecon Bay Sportsman Center, offers one of the most-generous bounties around. Anglers can claim a variety of prizes, up to a $200 gift certificate. On Tuesday afternoon, Matthew Calabria made the long ride from Raritan Bay with a 28.5-inch striper to claim the title of the season's first striped bass and earned two $100 gift certificate prizes. Matthew Calabria with the Season's First Striper!
Photo courtesy of Absecon Bay Sportsman Center
Minutes after Matthew claimed his prize, local angler, Trevor Daniels, stopped by the shop with his own striped bass - taken from the Mullica River. Trevor's striped bass pushed the scale down to 23.7 pounds and earned Trevor two $100 store gift certificates of his own. I'd like to congratulate both anglers – catching the season's first striped bass and earning $200 worth of equipment at Absecon Bay is a great way to start the 2016 season!Trevor Daniels with His Prize-winning 23.7-pound Striped Bass
Photo courtesy of Absecon Bay Sportsman Center
I wish I had a great fish story to share, but my season-opening trip was rather uneventful. For the first time in a few years, yours truly drove down to fish for stripers on opening day – well, opening night as I started fishing just after midnight on Tuesday, March 1. I had good conditions, but just didn't come across any signs of life. I made the rounds and gave it an honest effort, but came home empty handed. On the way home, I thought to myself, "we're close but just not there yet." I have a rather odd cue that signals when the striped bass bite begins in earnest: frogs – spring peepers to be exact. I haven't heard the chorus of frogs yet this year. There is one particular area, just about a ¼ mile from my home, where I usually hear the first peepers of the year. After taking my first skunk off the year, I'm nearing home and pull up to the last stop sign intersection before my house. I roll down my window and believe it or not, I heard what sounded like a solo frog doing its thing. I sat at the intersection (I live in a rural area and at 3:30 AM I'm not holding up traffic) and listened to that lone peeper for a few minutes with a big smile on my face. It won't be long before thousands of frogs are singing and screaming through the night and the stripers turn on the feedbag.Spring Peeper
I think we have a few more days to wait, but I expect things to pick up later into next week. The weather doesn't look great to end the week as it seems like we're due for a little snow tonight and maybe a few more flakes on Sunday. Fortunately, next week looks to rebound nicely as I saw a bunch of days in the 60's and a couple in the 70s! The water temperature stations are showing a slight improvement since last week as Atlantic City is reporting 43.9 degrees and Cape May shows 44.1 degrees. I'm sure next week's warm afternoons will get those frogs singing and wake up the resident stripers.
While the striped bass seem to be a little slow to start, I've had a little more luck at the nearby lakes and ponds. Largemouth bass, yellow perch, crappies, and pickerel seem to be enjoying the extended daylight and are frequenting the warmer, shallow flats. I used to fish with live baits early in the season, but I feel like I'm holding my own with a variety of soft-plastic baits. Trout Magnets, Berkley Gulp Minnows and rubber worms seem to be on par with live baits. Jake and I haven't caught any big bass this week, but I've seen a few trophy fish taken recently. March is a great time of year to catch quality bucket mouths. This Average-sized Spring Bass Couldn't Resist a Berkley Gulp Minnow
After not fishing for a few weeks, it seems like I'm a little more of an action junkie than usual and crappies have a way of filling in nicely. It seems like just about any shallow structure (2 to 4 feet) is holding crappies and the bite continues to get better each day. The wind has been a bit of an issue - catching in 20 to 30 MPH winds is never easy, especially when you're tossing ultra-light lures. Despite the wind, Jake and I are having a ball with the local crappies. Jake Tempted This Slab Crappie with a Rubber Worm
In the coming weeks, I'm sure I'll forget about those crappies and move on to bigger and better things. To be honest, I'm already looking forward to tiderunner weakfish and striped bass, but for now, those crappies are the best thing going and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it. If you have a chance to hit the water, don't overlook the great crappie bite – they can be found in great numbers and are lot of fun on light tackle. Early-season Fun!